Everyone said he was a bad man, but at the time, I found their remarks confusing. I was a vibrant 5-year-old who loved her daddy unconditionally. With a smile as bright as the sun, and an eagerness that wouldn’t quit, I defended his honor any time it was of question. I thought the world of him, and I didn’t see where he lacked.
He was amazing in my eyes.
He could build things, fix things. Most of all, he could make things feel better. It tore me apart that he was gone all the time. I was usually aware when he was away, but I figured my dad just worked a lot. There were times when he would be gone for weeks, returning home with a shoddy excuse. I didn’t care, I was just glad he was back. I just knew I missed him so much while he was gone.
Upon arrival, he would open the front door, and my whole face would light up. I would shoot up from wherever I was, and dart right into his arms. If I were lucky, he would stay long enough to put me to bed. Sometimes he would even sing, “My Little Sunshine,” as I tried to fall asleep. Sure enough, as quickly as he appeared, he vanished; leaving me to discover his absence come morning. He was predictable in this way .
I honestly had no understanding of my dad’s addictions for the longest time. While I had heard people discussing it, at 5-years-old, I had no idea what they meant. All I knew is I wished he had just stayed a little longer.
By 6 years old my parents were divorced and I had visitation with him every other weekend. He would pick up my brother and I sober, and the first place we would stop he would buy a 20 pack of Budweiser. I could identify the density of beer that was on my dad’s breath on any given weekend.
I remember hating it.
When he drank, he would always breathe heavy through his nose. His exhale would ignite the scent of putrid beer on his tongue, expelling the stench into the air. He would lean in to kiss me on the forehead, and I would turn away out of fear the stench would be stuck on my face.
I remember asking my mom why my dad drank, but even she didn’t know, she just wished he would stop. I felt like anytime I wanted to spend time with him, or suggested something we could do together, he would find some excuse as to why he couldn’t. I began to feel like he had something better to do.
I began to feel like I wasn’t enough.
What had I done wrong to cause my favorite person in the world to avoid being with me? I just wanted to be near him, I didn’t understand. Had I upset him? Was he embarrassed of me? I went through a whole list of what could have been wrong with me to have caused him to treat me this way.
I tried harder. I could be better.
I remember trying so hard to impress my dad, thinking if I sparked his interest, maybe then I would be worthy. I smiled bigger, ran faster, did my chores, and then some. Still nothing. I couldn’t help but blame myself for the response I got from my father, although, it never was my fault. I used to pray my hardest at night, that god would forgive my father and make him a better man. At least well enough to enjoy time with me.
I last saw my dad when I was 7-years-old. I hate to remind myself of that day, but I do remember it fully. I remember looking into his eyes and seeing the shell of a man he had become. It took years for me to understand, but eventually I realized, there was nothing wrong with me.
I will always be more than enough.
It was he who was lacking, taking the irreplaceable for granted. Seriously. While some may think I resent him, I don’t. I may die never understanding who he was, or why he behaved that way. But when it comes to my father, I have no unanswered questions. In his presence and absence, he has taught me what kind of parent I want to be.
If you ask me? I don’t want to miss a thing.
All I know is when my son asks if I will watch him play with his Hot Wheels, I will jump at the opportunity. Deep down, I know it means the world to him. It boosts his confidence, and let’s him show off his cool stuff! The best part? He gets to feel important, even if only for a little bit. Having experienced the defeating feeling of being let down, that would be the last thing I would want for any of my kids.
When we play with our children we show them how proud we are to call them our own. We demonstrate our amazement at how much they’ve learned and grown. We encourage them to reach higher! Why? Because they know, if they fall, we will be there to catch them.
I hope the next time you get the temptation to decline a child’s invitation to play, you remember the impact you have on their pride and self-esteem. Know that even 5 minutes will give them enough glory to keep them feeling awesome much longer than you’d expect.